Roman Leicester

Roman occupation of Ratae (the name for Iron Age Leicester) appears to have begun immediately following the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. By the early 2nd century, the Iron Age town was reorganised and a new rectangular street grid with gravelled roads was laid out. This coincided with Ratae’s appointment as the Civitas capital for the British people known to the Roman’s as the Corieltavi.

From this moment onward new and increasingly sophisticated buildings began to line the streets and from the middle of the 2nd century major programmes of public and private building were undertaken across the town, included construction of the forum and basilica (1), the Jewry Wall public baths (2) and at least one temple, identified as a Mithraeum (dedicated to the Persian god Mithras); as well as numerous private buildings including a variety of domestic, commercial and industrial premises, such as those found at Vine Street (3).

Roman Leicester as it might have looked in the 4th century AD. Artwork: Mike Codd / ULAS

In the late 2nd or early 3rd century, the town was provided with defences. At first these were simple ditches and earth ramparts but a substantial stone wall was added in the late 3rd century. The wall was three metres wide with towers (4) and may have been about four metres high, and would have been as much a symbol of civic pride as a discouragement to would-be-invaders.

By the late 3rd century, commerce was booming and the town had established trading links across Britain and Western Europe and as far as North Africa. New buildings, such as the macellum or market-hall (5) were built, although other parts of the town remained open space (6), probably serving as storage yards, market spaces and kitchen gardens.

What happened to Leicester in the 4th century is less certain but the town may have entered a prolonged period of decline from the mid-4th century onwards.

%d bloggers like this: